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Would Sharp be a good fit on Caps' top line?

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Would Sharp be a good fit on Caps' top line?

Today in Chicago, Patrick Sharp is parading through the streets, high-fiving and fist-pumping fans as they celebrate the Blackhawks’ third Stanley Cup in six years.

With $69 million committed to salaries next season, many believe these could be Sharp’s final days as a Blackhawk as the club tries to make amends with a $71 million salary cap that will force them to unload at least one big salary. Could the Capitals be one of the teams interested in acquiring Sharp and placing him on a top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom?

More importantly, can they make room for his $5.9 million cap hit for the next two years?

On Wednesday, Sharp told CSNChicago that he wants to enjoy a third championship season before giving thought to his future in Chicago.

“I haven’t really put much thought into it,” Sharp said. “It’s been a whirlwind couple of days. To win a third Stanley Cup in this city is something that I’ll always remember. It’s pretty special. It’s a huge accomplishment. These last couple days have been crazy. I’m sure the next few days when things wind down a little bit, that’ll be more of a topic of conversation.”

If you recall, Sharp was rumored to be the subject of trade talks between the Capitals and Blackhawks in late February and when asked specifically about Sharp, Capitals coach Barry Trotz seemed on board with the idea.

“We’re looking for the best players  and we’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Trotz said back on Feb. 28. “If you’re in the mix for those names I think it’s great because it shows your team that you’re an organization that’s not willing to stand pat. 

“We want to get better, I want to be part of that. If you’re a player or a coach or a fan you recognize the team is trying to get better and they’re not just settling for average. We’re tying to do great things here, so let's not settle for average. Let’s do something great. So those are great rumors to have out there for me.”

Back in February the Caps reportedly were unwilling to part with Joel Ward and a first-round draft pick in exchange for Sharp, who is 33 and coming off his least productive full season since his first full year in Chicago in 2006-07.  In 68 games this season Sharp recorded 16 goals and 27 assists and was a minus-8, but he delivered five goals and 10 assists and was a plus-2 in 23 playoff games for the Blackhawks while averaging 15:34 of ice time in the post-season. [Check out this post-game interview he gave while holding his daughter]. 

The Caps have roughly $50 million committed to eight forwards, six defensemen and one goalie, assuming Philipp Grubauer replaces Justin Peters as Braden Holtby’s backup next season. That means the Caps have roughly $21 million to spend on four forwards [including restricted free agents Evgeny Kuznetsov and Marcus Johansson] and goaltender Braden Holtby, also an RFA.

Theoretically, if the Caps re-sign Kuznetsov and Johansson to cap hits totaling $6 million and Holtby to a cap hit in the $6 million range, that would leave them with about $9 million in cap space to sign two or three more forwards. If the Caps trade for Sharp without getting rid of salary, that would leave roughly $3 million to re-sign Jay Beagle and/or Eric Fehr, leaving no money left for UFAs Ward or defenseman Mike Green.

MORE CAPITALS: FORMER CAP WILL HAVE TO FIND A NEW TEAM

The Caps also could look into freeing up salary by either including a roster player in a trade for Sharp, or looking into buyout options for a roster player such as Brooks Laich.

  

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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

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Lumberjack Caps enjoy off day...throwing axes

The reigning Stanley Cup champions seemingly have boat loads of team fun while on the road. 

A day after cruising past the Vancouver Canucks (5-2, win) at their place, the team enjoyed a little friendly competition inside an...axe throwing arena. 

Forged Axe Throwing is an indoor facility in the countryside of Whistler, British Columbia. 

Dressed as lumberjacks, the Caps dove right into their team-building activity. 

Andre Burakovsky and Nicklas Backstrom went head-to-head for Swedish bragging rights. 

To no one's surprise, Alex Ovechkin is as much of a goal-scorer as he is an axe-thrower. 

But it was T.J. Oshie who walked away with the Forged Axe Throwing title on this day. 

Needless to say, Tuesday wasn't your average off day for a National Hockey League team. But as reigning champs, everyday is atypical. 

 

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Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Braden Holtby reveals the real reason for his struggles last season

Last season was by far Braden Holtby’s worst in the NHL.

With a .907 save percentage and 2.99 GAA, Holtby was not even considered the starter for the Capitals heading into the playoffs. While his overall numbers were low, things really spiraled at the start of February.

From February 2 to March 6, Holtby managed a save percentage of only .878 and gave up a whopping 4.32 GAA. It was the worst stretch of his professional career.

There have been many theories as to the cause of Holtby’s struggles. From 2012-13 through last season, only one goalie played in more games than Holtby’s 340. After Philipp Grubauer took over, Holtby thrived in the postseason.

But neither goalie coach Scott Murray or Braden Holtby believe the issue was fatigue.

“You don't want to overuse a No. 1 guy, but [Holtby’s] a guy that has proven he can play some games and be productive,” Murray said.

The real issue, in Holtby’s mind, was the changing culture of the NHL and its focus on offense.

“It's a skill-based league now, not a toughness based league,” Holtby told NBC Sports Washington. “I see that in the league trying to take players out that play a physical game. It's hard. It's strange for us that grew up kind of loving that game because of the toughness and the heart that it took and different ways to win games. It's hard to see that kind of softness come through. That's one of those things I struggled with last year and I think you grow up and try and just ignore it and control your own game.”

It’s no secret that the NHL is trying to increase scoring with changes such as making goalie pads and pants smaller and referees calling games tighter leading to more penalties and less physical play. The league’s efforts seem to be working - in the 2017-18 season, the average goals scored per team jumped up by 10 percent.

Here are the average goals per game per team in the NHL from the 2010-11 season through 2016-17:

2010-11: 2.79
2011-12: 2.73
2012-13: 2.72
2013-14: 2.74
2014-15: 2.73
2015-16: 2.71
2016-17: 2.77

In every season during that stretch, the average fell between 2.71-2.79. In the 2017-18 season, however, that average jumped up all the way up to 2.97.

Successful NHL goalies are expected to have a save percentage over .910 and a GAA below 2.50. But what happens when that standard changes? For Holtby, he struggled to evaluate his own performance. He felt he was playing well, but the numbers told a different story.

“That was one of the real challenges last year, especially through the first four months or so,” Holtby said. “We try to evaluate it every game the same based on every play and not how the game is and it felt that, both [Murray], [goaltending director Mitch Korn] and I felt that I was playing better than I had years passed and the numbers just weren't obviously showing that and it became frustrating and that started to creep in my game. That's kind of a main reason why you saw the drop off in February.”

If the issue was not fatigue, however, then why was time off the solution?

According to Murray, it wasn’t.

“It's always good to have rest, but I think more importantly he had to reinvent himself a little bit and reestablish his foundation that got him here in the first place which is a blue-collar attitude,” Murray said. “I'm going to work and I'm going to stick to what I'm good at, my habits and make sure they're good and let some of the outside stuff go. I think that was just as important as rest, kind of that reset button and understanding who he was and what got him there and getting back to that.”

It’s an important lesson that Holtby will have to remember for this season as scoring has jumped up yet again even over last season. In the first month of play, the average number of goals per game per team has climbed to 3.10. Should that trend stick, it will be the first time the average has gone over 3.00 since 2005-06.

“You know there's going to be more goals, more chances,” Holtby said. “Just focus on every play and just leave out the rest because those are things you just can't control. That's just life.”

 

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